The Health Facts You Need
Today we hear a lot about folic acid and its benefits, especially regarding cardiovascular health and prevention of neural tube defects. But what is the basis for these claims? Is there any science to back them up? To understand the answers, lets take a closer look at the role of folate.
Folic acid, or folate, a "B vitamin" has a unique role in your body... folates are "carbon shuttles", shuttling simple carbon compounds from one molecule to another. Why is this so important?
Life is based on carbon... carbon forms the "backbone" of biological molecules like proteins, DNA, lipids (fat), and carbohydrates. And by shuttling simple carbon compounds like methyl from one molecule to another, folate supports 2 major pathways of life...
Your 1st Pathway of Life
Essential for Life-Rewarding Health
Pathway #1 - DNA Synthesis...
Vital for Cell Division and Tissue Growth.
Its true, growth of healthy new tissue like skin depends upon the division and multiplication of cells. And on planet earth, the "operating instructions" for those new cells is your DNA, the molecule of heredity. Heres where folate fits the picture...
by shuttling simple carbon compounds, folate provides the carbon required at critical junctures for the synthesis of DNA. Folate supports DNA synthesis, cell division and ultimately the growth and regeneration of all healthy new tissue.
What Happens If Folic Acid
is Short-Changed in Your Diet?
Folate deficiency sets in motion a destructive cascade of events within your body - beginning with impaired DNA synthesis. And without sufficient DNA synthesis, cell division slows way down.
Rapidly dividing cells like red blood cells, skin (epithelial cells) and intestinal tract cells are affected first - grossly enlarging without enough new DNA to support cell division. Clinically, this is manifested in red blood cells as a condition called "macrocytic anemia", second only to iron deficiency as the most common form of anemia. Symptoms of severely anemic individuals include weakness, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, headaches, palpitations and shortness of breath
Impaired DNA synthesis due to folate deficiency also damages the rapidly dividing cells of the intestinal epithelium - causing poor absorption and diarrhea. This only compounds the original problem - folate deficiency.
Do You Have Special
Folic Acid Needs?
Your folate needs increase during high physiological demand or stress. Pregnancy, lactation and rapid growth all ramp-up DNA synthesis and your need for folate.
For example, rapid cell division is vital for a growing embryo. Folate deficiency around conception interrupts growth and normal embryogenesis, producing malformations of the brain (analcephaly) and spinal cord (spina bifida), abnormalities collectively called Neural tube defects.
This is why it is vital women capable of becoming pregnant supplement with the RDA of 400 micrograms folic acid daily. The neural tube closes (or unfortunately fails to close) during the first month of pregnancy, a time when most women are unaware they are pregnant.
The second major pathway of folic acid involves proteins - the molecules forming the structural tissue of skin, muscles, organs and all the countless "engines" driving your metabolic machinery, the enzymes.
Your 2nd Pathway of Life
Essential for Good Health
Synthesis and Metabolism of Proteins.
Folate, in concert with vitamin B12, converts the toxic amino acid "homocysteine" into the amino acid "methionine". And methionine is a building block of proteins as well as a precursor of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), a universal donor of simple carbon molecules to more than 100 enzymatic reactions essential to normal metabolism.
Dangerous Cardiovascular Risk?
The Folic Acid - Homocysteine Connection
In fact, folic acid deficiency retards the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. The result?
Homocysteine builds-up in the blood to dangerously high levels. More than 80 studies link high homocysteine with common cardiovascular problems in the general population. High homocysteine levels may be even equivalent to the risks associated with high cholesterol or smoking.
Are You Getting Enough
Folate in Your Diet?
Folates provided by food is in a "bound" or "complexed" state. And folates are not well absorbed compared to the simple, non-complexed state called folic acid found in nutritional supplements. Heres why...
Natural enzymes known as "conjugases" must be present in the intestine to break down the folates in food to the highly absorbable folic acid. But many foods like oranges, cabbage, yeast, beans, lentils and black-eyed peas contain inhibitors of the brush border conjugases. This reduces your intestinal absorption efficiency. Folates can also bind to food matrices, making them unavailable for absorption. Deficiency of iron, zinc and vitamin C also impair absorption.
Storage and processing of foods also degrades natural folate levels. Folates in foods are easily broken down in the presence of oxygen (normal aerobic conditions), causing instability during food processing and storage. Folates leech into cooking water, reducing natural folate levels by as much as 84%.
Your actual absorption efficiency is highly variable and based on these dietary and food processing determinants.